5.7 New Precepts
The Koran introduced the idea that all men, despite their wealth or position, were equal in the sight of Allah. This idea was completely alien to the Arabs who prided themselves on their lineage. Each tribe was careful to record the deeds of its heroes and ancestors and they extolled them in verse and prose. A man of unknown lineage was a nobody and had no place among them except as a slave. The Koran pointed out that it was not a matter of lineage, wealth, or children, the things they prided themselves upon, but the purity of the heart that Allah looked at. Allah would approve even a foreigner if he was a righteous man. Race, nation, tribe, and sex were of no consequence. The holy verses say:
"Mankind, We have created you male and female, nations and clans to get acquainted. To Allah the most honored among you is the most devout." (49:13)
Did these verses imply that their slaves could be their equals? And sex too was mentioned. Surely women were not to be compared with men! But in clear and majestic language the Koran continued to explain that all human beings were the descendants of Adam and Eve, their lineage was the same. Women were individuals and had clear, inalienable rights. A good woman was better than a bad man in the sight of Allah, and there was much more to shock the sensibilities of the leaders of the Quraysh. The fatherless, the widow, the slave, and all the downtrodden were discussed one by one and given rights and liberties. No one was forgotten.
The Koran introduced another concept that seemed to the Arabs cowardly and degrading-the idea of forgiveness and pardon was introduced. The Arabs had prided themselves in their ability in vendettas to pursue a debt of vengeance to the death. The Koran counseled tempering vengeance by mercy. To seek redress was a human right, according to the Koran, but to forgive was better, provided that one had the ability to attain redress and did not forgive out of weakness, but rather out of benevolence and understanding, and in the firm belief that all men were brethren and that one should forgive one's brethren if they had made a mistake.
As the precepts of the Koran unfolded, they began to divide the Meccans into two groups. The kind, the just, the idealistic were won over by these concepts and fought for them as the eternal truth, worth living by and worth dying for. The hard-hearted, the selfish, the narrow-minded, the arrogant began to fight them as a threat to their position in their society, their economic system, and their religion upon which their privileges and honor above other Arabs depended.
It was not everyone who was ready to make sacrifices for the downtrodden. It took a man with the innate sensitivity and goodness of Abu Bakr to feel his slave his equal and to accept the truth of this; it took a man with the deep sense of justice of Umar ibn Al-Khattab to grasp the righteousness of the idea and consider it fair, or someone with the generosity of Uthman ibn Affan to accept sacrificing his privileges for the sake of the downtrodden. Many did not want to become Muslims for the Koran stated that to be a Muslim meant to set slaves free as an act pleasing to Allah, to treat women with absolute fairness and tactful kindness, to care for orphans as if they were one's own children, and to give them their property as soon as they were old enough to manage it, to help the needy, to answer the call of the distressed, to be humble and reverential to one's aged parents, to be true in word, deed, and thought, and to pray to Allah five times a day.
To people who lived a life of luxury and idleness based on the service of their many slaves and dependants (the daughter of' Abdul-Muttalib, one of Mohamed's aunts, gave forty of her slaves their freedom on one day), it was not a small thing to ask. To a people who thought it their right as men and masters to take the best of everything and give the weak-women, children, and slaves-whatever they would, it was indeed a sacrifice. To men whose highest pleasure was spending the night in drink, with slaves and poets extolling their greatness, their generosity, their lineage, or whatever they had done or said, it meant a totally new outlook, a very different concept of man and his relationship to his Creator. It was tantamount to starting a whole new life.
Islam decreed humility before one's Maker. Allah does not like the boastful, the vainglorious. It meant contemplation of His wondrous universe and the constant attempt to reflect and understand. The ability to think was a great gift bestowed by Allah, and it was man's duty to use it. Then above all, he was to do all the good he could, both actively by helping make the world a better place, and passively by controlling his own whims and desires.
In exchange Allah promised paradise to those who made the effort and worshipped Him alone. What Mohamed was asking of them was to shun the three hundred and sixty idols around the Kaaba, those idols whom their fathers and forefathers had worshipped for generation after generation. What he asked was not little, indeed it was much; but the reward also was not little, it was beyond anything that man could achieve for himself.
From the dark heart of Mecca, the noble, the good, the generous were being picked one by one and added to Mohamed's little group. The influential men of Mecca looked on in wonder, then in alarm, then in fear. They felt the earth was being pulled from under their feet and they did not like it.